Sugarbrook Community Engaged Learning Project

Sugarbrook Community Engaged Learning Project

Academic Year:
2019 - 2020 (June 1, 2019 through May 31, 2020)
Funding Requested:
Project Dates:
Chair Uniqname:
Overview of the Project:
The Sugarbrook Community Engaged Learning Project is a partnership between the School of Social Work, Habitat for Humanity, & the residents of Ypsilanti’s Sugarbrook neighborhood. The partnership was facilitated, & has ongoing support, by the Ginsberg Center. Through fostering meaningful, equitable relationships, students leverage university resources to help Sugarbrook residents advance their equity, & overcome obstacles resulting from historic & ongoing racial & economic oppression. Students have joined the neighborhood's resident-led Action Teams, including Amenities, Neighbor Relations, Kettering, & Youth Activities, working with residents as they conduct neighborhood action to improve their lives. Some of these actions include advocating for speed abatements & curbs from the township, addressing neighborhood safety concerns, working with Ypsilanti Community Schools to convert an abandoned school site to a neighborhood green space, and conducting activities & events for youth, & events to foster and strengthen neighbor relations. In conducting this work, students use an asset, strength-based organizing approach, focused, & helping residents to identify, their capacity, resources, motivation, & tools for change. Students participate in resident-led action that includes a process of collaboratively identifying neighborhood issues, assessing history & context, identifying actionable objectives, implementing interventions, evaluating outcomes, & sustaining change. In doing so, students learn real-life application of social work tenets, tools, & organizing strategies, such as the necessity of fostering genuine relationships, being aware of identities & their intersection with power & privilege, understanding that those affected by an issue, know best the solution to that issue, & that social work practice is approaching environments, individuals, groups, & communities, with a focus on strengths & assets - not deficits.
Number of Graduate Students Affected Annually:
20 graduate students
Number of Undergraduate Students Affected Annually:
0 undergraduate students
Additional Supporters:
<p>Neeraja Aravamudan,</p>
Budget Administrator:
Candace Terhune-Flannery,
Final Report Fields
Project Objectives:

Project objectives were to aid residents in creating activities and events to boost resident and youth engagement, foster social connectedness, address issues of neighborhood safety, and mobilize residents for community advocacy.

Project Achievements:


  • Students helped a resident collect 70 petition signatures that were submitted to the County Roads Commission to potentially get the neighborhood speed abatements as speeding and car accidents were a safety issue. The resident shared that he had been collecting signatures for months, but was finally able to get the number needed to submit the petition due to the students' help.

  • Students worked to promote neighborhood meetings and events throughout the semester. This resulted in increasing resident engagement, with more people showing up to neighborhood watch and action meetings, and neighborhood events. At the end of the semester, the Sheriff reported that crime had decreased during the last 4 months - which he believed was, in part, due to increased resident engagement.
  • Students helped to build 3 free little libraries in the neighborhood
  • Students helped residents with rebranding the "Amentities Action Team" to the "Community Enhancement" team, which will focus on both safety issues, and use of the empty Kettering lot in the neighborhood.
  • Students conducted research and met with town officials on who can be responsible for the Kettering lot. The students were able to find out and share with Sugarbrook residents that both Ypsilanti Community Schools and Ypsilanti Township does not want responsibility for the lot. Students helped to galvanize residents around the idea of coming together to apply for funding to transform the lot into something the neighborhood use. Students also researched environmental issues, such as air quality of the Kettering lot due to its close proximity to the highway, and educated residents about these concerns. This information helped to inform the residents' advocacy efforts with the township, which had been considering building public housing on the empty lot. Students also provided residents with a funding matrix of possible grant opportunities they could look into.
  • Residents reported change in atmosphere in the neighborhood at meetings and neighborhood events during the class's involvement
  • Habitat for Humanity reported increased resident enthusiasm and engagement in neighborhood events and meetings during class involvement
  • Students reported gaining better clarity on community organizing, project planning and management, relationship building skills, and other tools and skills learned in class due to actual application. Many students reported this was their first time actually working in communities, and specifically in neighborhood development
  • Students gained a better understanding of how interpersonal practice is often used in macro social work, such as the use of motivational interviewing, while working with individuals trying to create community change
  • Students gained better understanding of how and why research shows that neighborhoods with strong social connections are healthier, safer, and happier.
  • Students gained real-life understanding of how to approach communities from a strength and asset based perspective, helping them to identify their own tools, assets, and resources, and solutions they know 
  • The holiday potluck event at the end of the semester was attended by over 100 residents and by the students. Students helped to secure over $500 in raffle prizes from local businesses, and over 100 new books were able to be donated to children as part of a gift drive.
  • Students were able to help residents identify various youth activities and events they would like in the neighborhood, and helped them plan them for the next year. Students created event planning materials to assist them in doing this
  • Habitat for Humanity has shared the students' projects, research, and resources were shared with the Board of Directors and has informed their ongoing work in the neighborhood


The action teams are a permanent fixture of the neighborhoods, and will continue their work, building on the tools, new engagement, resources, and resident action, that the students helped to facilitate. Students created tools and resources and led organizing and mobilizing efforts that result in sustained changed for neighborhood residents. Examples include the collecting of petition signatures to submit to the County Roads commission, which will successfully allow the neighborhood to gain speed abatements; a funding matrix with details about grants that residents can apply for so they can gain ownership of the Kettering lot, and research information that will help inform their advocacy work with the city and township on what the lot should be used for; event planning templates and resources to continue planning a set schedule of neighborhood youth activities and events; survey data on the tools resident use to stay connected and informed in the neighborhood, how they are involved in the neighborhood, and the events they like to attend, which is greatly informing the outreach and strategy of the resident-led Neighbor Relations team. Students also developed an inventory of businesses that they secured donations from during the semester for youth and general neighborhood events, which was passed on to residents. Lastly, Habitat for Humanity and Sugarbrook will strive to make the Holiday party and gift drive an annual tradition.

The work was also featured on the school's website:

I have since joined the school's Community Engagement initiative, and my feedback from doing this project is helping to inform the school’s strategic effort to create standardized policies and practice around community engagement courses for instructors and partner organizations.
Advice to your Colleagues:
- As the work students were doing was resident and community-led, it would have been advantageous to require a minimum amount of work that was expected by each student group. I overcame challenges that arose due to inequitable distribution of work between student groups by accounting for more work done by some groups during final grading. I also explicitly shared with the class that some endeavors being undertaken by groups should be collective responsibilities. I also allowed for class time each week for groups to work on their projects, which helped to identify where groups could and should be collaborating with one another.
- I would advise that you enter a project charter agreement with your community entity prior to the start of the semester. The project charter should specify expectations of both the instructor and the community entity in regards to feedback given to students, grading students, and ongoing communication between instructor and community partner, and community partner and students. I overcame any issues that arose by being flexible, including H4H in reviewing student assignments and providing their feedback to students (although their feedback did not factor into their grades), and having weekly calls with H4H about how work was unfolding.
- I would have potentially graded students Pass/Fail on their final projects they produced for the community. My job as an instructor can only be to evaluate students' participation, effort, fulfillment of assignment criteria, and adherence and application of course concepts. Community partners are better able to judge community value added due to students' work.
- At times lecture during our class became too project management focused due to the various work going on in the community. I overcame this by using various online tools and using the class Canvas as a way to project manage outside of class, instead of in the classroom.
- I would advise faculty to ensure that their syllabi, and course descriptions, adequately state that this is a community engagement course, and the out-of-class participation and time commitment expected. I believe that some students were not aware of how involved the community engagement project was prior to joining the class. I did my best to account for those who had other commitments and could not participate in community activities and asked them to make up for their participation in other ways. I would urge faculty members to consider how a students participation grade will be calculated in a class like this, and whether readings should be decreased due to the out-of-class obligations.
- Work done with a community partner should not happen in a vacuum. A professor who had done a community partnership with Habitat and Sugarbrook shared her students' work with me, which greatly informed my teaching and my students' understanding and work in the community. I would advise that instructors create some sort of internal drive that they share with the community partner that houses all the tools or resources created by students during the semester. Additionally, I would advise that instructors create a drive housing the work that the course did in the community, which can be handed off to a future instructor that partners with the community entity.

Source URL: